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Conviction Reversed in Exigent Circumstances Case

Exigent circumstances is an exception to the general requirement that a search warrant be obtained before a search will be considered reasonable. In exigent circumstances, a police officer may reasonably conduct a search or seizure without first obtaining a warrant. But in such cases, whether the actions of law enforcement were reasonably justified by the circumstances may be reviewed by a court considering a motion to exclude evidence obtained as a result of the actions. In the recent case of State v. Gibson, M2012-02363-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App 10-18-2013), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals reversed a DUI conviction, rejecting the trial court's earlier ruling that exigent circumstances justified a police officer's entry into a home, where the Defendant was discovered intoxicated.

In the Gibson case, a police officer discovered a wrecked, abandoned vehicle. Registration information led to a home about half a mile away. The officer noticed the door to the home was partially open. A neighbor informed the officer the residents were out of town and that the door had earlier been closed. Receiving no response after knocking, the officer entered the home and discovered the Defendant in an upstairs bedroom, intoxicated. The officer learned the Defendant had been driving the wrecked vehicle.

The Defendant eventually pled guilty to DUI but reserved for appeal the question of whether the trial court erred in admitting the evidence obtained as a result of the officer's entry into the home. The trial court concluded exigent circumstances made the search reasonable, as the officer was looking for the driver of the wrecked vehicle and investigating whether the home had been burglarized.

The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, concluding that absent any evidence that there was an injured person in need of medical attention, or that there was anyone inside the home in danger, there were no exigent circumstances justifying entry into the home without a warrant. Having concluded the evidence was unlawfully obtained, the DUI conviction was reversed.

For more information on exceptions to the warrant requirement, contact Hindman & Associates.

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